NBA meets MBA: The Raptors’ 7 business lessons
OK. Full disclosure. I am a huge fan of basketball and an absolutely crazy Toronto Raptors fan. I go to games – both home and away – outfitted in swag, giving the team my full support. So, I am ecstatic that the Raptors are NBA World Champions. But I’m also equally – no, make that more – devoted to Algood and as I watched the Raptors win game after game, I was thinking about what I could learn from their success about the caster and wheel business. Based on that, here are the seven business lessons to be learned from the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.
Be laser-focused on your goals.And don’t celebrate until you have achieved them. While it’s important to acknowledge the accomplishments that lead to ultimate success, they can’t become a distraction. But when you do reach your goal, pull all the stops out on the celebration. The Raptors – whether they won or lost – remained completely focused on the championship. There are photos of the Raptors going to the locker room after both wins and losses in the playoffs and from their facial expressions, you can’t tell the difference. No matter what, they were counting the number of games they needed to win for the championship. But when they got there, all hell broke lose and they had a crazy celebration – including a parade attended by two million people.
You achieve success as a team.Businesses can only succeed when everybody has a role to play, everybody does their part and everybody is respected for what they do. More than that, when someone is having a problem and they’re not at their peak, someone else picks up the slack and never throws a fellow employee under the bus. One of the hallmarks of the Raptors season was their overall commitment to the team both on or off the court. They were at their very best when they shared the ball and there was none of the locker room drama that plagued other teams.
Always be innovating.When one initiative doesn’t work, try another and don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t worry about what others might say about your strategy because its success is based on whether you win or lose – and everything else is commentary. Nick Nurse, the Raptors rookie head coach, tried dozens of different starting line ups and kept changing match ups during the playoffs. Everyone laughed at his box plus one defense until it worked. And then suddenly, the Warriors were imitating it. Nurse was also willing to listen to his players’ suggestions, which is another great lesson for business leaders. Recognize the wisdom of those who are doing their jobs and don’t be too full of yourself to take their advice.
Make big changes when changes are necessary.When results aren’t what they could be, don’t play ostrich with your head in the sand and don’t be afraid to make a big decision. When you don’t have the right people in the right place, you’ve got to go out and get others. Likewise, when you don’t have the right equipment, you’re going to have to face reality and buy more. Last summer, the Raptors made two huge moves. They fired Coach-of-the-Year Dwayne Casey and they traded long time fan-favourite and all-star Demar Derozan. The team’s leadership was prepared to recognize that they didn’t have what it would take to win a championship. The flack they took for making bold moves is forgotten now that they’re the champs. In March, they traded lots of young talent for Mark Gasol and it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have win it all without him.
Recognize that culture is everything. Hire based on character as much, if not more than, talent. The way people fit into your organization will contribute more to success than their raw ability. Treat the people that work for you with care, consideration and compassion. Their problems are your problems because they affect their ability to do their jobs. So it makes sense to invest time and effort into their well-being. There wasn’t a single member of the Raptors playoff roster that was drafted higher than 15thand, in some cases, they were undrafted. The Raptors looked for players with the right character who could fit into a team that had an incredible work ethic. Over the years, there were players who, despite having the right character, didn’t have enough talent. But the were also players like Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Vleet who seemingly came from nowhere and by focusing on constant improvement are destined to be superstars.
Performance trumps marketing.In today’s competitive marketplace you can’t achieve success without great marketing. An amazing product that no one knows about won’t deliver much revenue. Being an industry’s best-kept secret sounds good but it’s a prescription for bankruptcy. However, the converse isn’t true. Outstanding marketing won’t save a company from a mediocre product – particularly with social media at play. The Raptors have some extremely creative marketing. In particular, the “We the North” tagline is brilliant in its diverse appeal and its ability to unite a country. But make no mistake. Without the Raptors on-court success, all the marketing in the world couldn’t create their unbelievable popularity.
Don’t be afraid of a superstar.Most businesses have one employee that works harder, works smarter, gets more results, makes more sales or just simply outshines fellow employees. That’s not a bad thing and it’s not wrong for that person to get some special treatment. If it’s based on ability, it’s also appropriate for other employees – and good for the company – to
recognize that person’s superiority and the contributions they make. Kawhi Leonard is a superstar and he was treated like one – by the organization and by his teammates. They freely acknowledged his outstanding talent and recognized that they were collectively better off with him than without. In the end, no one was jealous of his MVP status because they all got to be champions.
Now, I’m basking in the warm glow of my team being the NBA champions and looking forward to next season and the lessons I can learn from that.